The Power of Pony Finals

Photo by Shawn McMillen.

BY Sydney Beese

The Walnut Arena. 95,000 square feet of premium OttoSport footing. The venue is seamlessly crafted to elegantly house ten of the most ostentatious yet time-honored jumps known to the hunter pony world. Traveling far and wide to attend this prestigious show, over six hundred ponies and riders gather to compete for the chance to be crowned the Pony Finals Grand Champion. A place of heartbreak and immense joy, Pony Finals is the crowning jewel and ultimate goal for many ambitious young riders.

In August 2018, I joined the influx of hopeful young riders optimistic that they would be the one in a hundred to win and make a name for themselves.

As I walked toward the show ring everything went silent and the world froze around me. This was it. This was my moment. My three wonderful minutes of glory. Standing at the gate it finally hit me: this was my last hoorah.

I had outgrown my pony and would no longer be able to compete with him. Drowning my butterflies and unconsciously deepening my ruminative state, I became aware of a connection so strong at this moment it seemed as if anything were possible. A connection that seemed to calm my nerves and assure me that we would be ok: the connection of a horse and its rider.

At this point, all that mattered was that we would make this time count and handle any obstacles as they occurred.

As my name was called, I gathered up every ounce of courage I could muster and rode into the ring. To say the least, my round was far from perfect. Leaving the arena my eyes began to mist. This is what it had all been for. Six years of tireless work, buckets of sweat, and countless tears of both frustration and triumph all dumped into a few short minutes of showing that filled me with enough joy and gratification to last a lifetime. At this moment I was only concerned with one thing: I, no we, had done it.

With the tireless work and support of my trainers and family, they had managed to squeeze the very best out of a green pony and rider and change both of us for the better.

During the course of emotion I experienced as I took the long trek back to the barn, a deep revelation about the intricacies regarding relationships and wellbeing, as well as the importance of ‘the journey’ occurred. While it is cliché to say that hard work pays off, at that moment I realized it truly does, and with that awareness, my memory took me back to a wide variety of situations.

Before competing at Pony Finals, I knew I was a perfectionist who strove for the moon, and would be unsatisfied if I landed among the
stars. But my reaction surprised even me as I was filled with elation.

It was at this moment that I realized that over the past few years, every challenge I had faced was slowly reverting my mindset, not to one of indifference or defeat but to that of rational and persistence. The source of this came from the joy found within every little victory and the desire to accomplish an ostensibly impossible goal reinforced by only a few individuals who provided an immense amount of support.

This is the power of horses and what national competitions such as Pony Finals stand for. They encourage seemingly improbable goals, leading to both personal and athletic development for both horse and rider. While it is often a long and messy journey working towards and competing at Pony Finals, the process allows you to realize that you can make new realities possible both inside and out of the ring.